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Six US Airlines Licensed to Start Cuba Flights

FILE - JetBlue is one of the airlines that will soon begin service to Cuba.

The United States has given six airlines permission to operate commercial flights to Cuba, which have been barred for decades.

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced licenses Friday for American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines and Sun Country Airlines.

The airlines will fly to nine cities in Cuba, but not Havana. U.S. transportation officials said they had yet to make a decision on flights to the Cuban capital because interest from airlines was much higher for those routes and there were competing claims.

The routes approved Friday include service from the U.S. cities of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Philadelphia and Minneapolis, flying to such Cuban cities as Santa Clara and Santiago de Cuba.

Final approval is still required by the Cuban government, but carriers said they hoped to begin flights this fall.

U.S. law still prohibits most tourist visits to Cuba. However, President Barack Obama has authorized exceptions for other types of travel, including family visits, official business, journalist visits and educational tours.

In the last year and a half, Cuba and the United States have begun restoring diplomatic relations, including reopening embassies in Washington and Havana. While the United States maintains a trade embargo against Cuba, Obama has eased economic links between the two countries, five decades after Cuba's former president, Fidel Castro, nationalized U.S. businesses on the island.

Now, some American businesses are opening operations in Cuba, and U.S. cruise ships have begun making ports of call to the island nation.